CHICAGO -- Somewhere between Games 1 and 2, the track meet at the Stanley Cup Final morphed from a sprint to a racewalk. The Blackhawks, who limped to final buzzer, held off the Flyers, 2-1, to take the first two games at home. The contest looked nothing like the scrambling, frenetic opener that produced 11 goals and little attention to defense that the teams paid in the previous contest.
On Monday, the teams banged, dumped and chipped their way into offensive purgatory for 37 minutes until the Hawks scored on consecutive shifts by the overdue
The 'Hawks now head to Philadelphia having escaped with a run-and-gun win and another that was crawl-and-stall
The first period already looked more measured than in Game 1. The teams combined for no goals on 12 shots, including just three by the Flyers, compared to five goals on 26 shots in Game 1. The Flyers had only three shots in the opening stanza, but let some other chances get away.
The Flyers came loaded with fire in the opening period. Coach
Midway through the second period, the Flyers sprung Richards, who had just left the penalty box. With more room to skate in on Niemi, he released a 20-foot snapshot, but Niemi kicked it away with his right pad. Soon after, Niemi denied Richards, the Flyers keeper made a left-pad stop on
"It's been a long time [between goals]," said Hossa, who had gone eight games since his last goal in Game 3 against Vancouver in the Western semis. "I've been trying to work hard. It was a garbage goal I scored. Our line creates lots of chances, but finally we got a bounce. It's a relief ... I'd been trying to create chances, try not to get frustrated, but it gets in your head."
As much as Leighton improved his play from Game 1, making 24 saves on the night, the Hossa goal may have unnerved him. Just 28 seconds later, the Flyers turned the puck over at center ice, where Byfuglien picked it up. He sent Eager, a former Flyer, into the zone with a tap pass. The aptly named enthusiastic bruiser with one goal in 32 prior playoff games set up a screen through Flyers defenseman
"It was pretty exciting," Eager said modestly of his rare strike. "[Our line] has been working hard this postseason. It was definitely a nice feeling to see that one go in. Hoss's goal really got the bench going. We got out there and got a nice bounce."
For much of the night, the Flyers had themselves to blame for the lack of rubber they threw at Niemi. "We all talked about tightening up defensively," said Flyers forward
That changed in the third period, when the Flyers pinched their defensemen more often, sent two forwards into the Chicago end, and forced the Hawks into a timid series of chipouts and icings. Philadelphia outshot Chicago, 15-4, but managed only a power-play goal by Gagne at the 5:20 mark. Niemi remained strong, making one of his best stops against Gagne on the doorstep with 30 seconds to play.
"I think we could've started a little better tonight," said Laviolette. "I thought their goaltender played extremely well in the third period. We had more than enough looks to tie up the game."
Now the Flyers, who probably deserve better than an 0-2 hole, need a different look on home ice Wednesday. "It happened against Boston," defenseman
Only now they face a much tougher foe that has proven it can skate and knock heads with them in races both fast and slow.